Thursday, January 05, 2017

The 360-Degree Turn and White Lies


If I were to tell you that I had floored Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring in a home match in Louisville in 1965, you'd know I was lying through my teeth. You would call it a white lie, right? But any English professor would tell you that a 'white lie' is one that is told in order to be polite or to stop someone from being upset by the truth. Like when your colleague asks you how the fatso that she is she looks in that horrendous sari and you compliment her by exclaiming, 'Fab!' As my claim about pugilistic skills does not serve any such purpose, it does not qualify to be called a white lie; it is a blatant lie. Call it a 'terminological Inexactitude' like the redoubtable Sir Winston Churchill, if you like euphemisms.

There are several other words and expressions which even educated persons use, rather, misuse. 'Prostrate cancer' is one such: how many of us know that it is 'prostate'? The word 'prostrate' which means 'lying face down' has nothing to do with the dreaded disease.

'Momento' is the abomination of a word - because it is not a word at all. You will not find it in a dictionary. If you are referring to a gift or an artifact to remember some event by, 'Memento' is the word you have in mind.

The other day, a sous chef was demonstrating how to make mutton cutlets. One of the ingredients was potatoes - to be exact, she said, 'smashed potatoes'. What the culinary expert meant was, of course, 'mashed potatoes'.

The word 'fulsome' does not mean 'copious'; it means 'insincerely complimentary'. Therefore you have no reason for cheer if you receive fulsome praise from someone!

'Hearty congratulations' are fine, but 'hearty condolences' are, well, somewhat off-colour.

One often sees the sentence 'I waited with baited breath' which sounds perfect. That is exactly what it is - it only sounds right; it is not spelt right. The Intended term is 'bated' , meaning suspended, which can be traced back to the verb 'abate', meaning 'to stop'. The verb 'bait', on the other hand, means 'to tempt'.

When we wreak vengeance on someone, what we do is to exact, not 'extract', revenge, though the latter expression seems 'more correct'.

It is not okay to say 'John emigrated to the US'. The prefix 'e' as in 'emit' (Compare remit, demit, etc) means 'from'. And therefore 'emigrate' does not go with 'to'. The correct version would be 'John emigrated from India.' If you would like to be more specific, you could say 'John emigrated from India to the US' or 'John immigrated to the US from India', depending on whether you want to lay greater stress on coming or going.

With the sky-rocketing number of automobiles and roads that seem to get narrower, traffic jams are the order of the day and we speak of 'the big bottleneck near the mall', little realising that the bigger the bottleneck, the easier it would be to pass through it!

At a time when virtual reality is a concept that has taken centre-stage, the distinction between 'virtually' and 'really' has blurred so much that we tend to use them interchangeably to mean 'literally' or 'actually'. While 'really' and 'actually' are indeed synonymous, the intensifiers 'virtually' and 'literally' are, well, just almost, but not quite, there.

What takes the cake, according to me, is the expression '360-degree turn'. Try making a 360 degrees turn; what has changed? It is a 180-degree turn (or change) that would mean that the new stand is the complete opposite of the earlier one which is what one is trying to say. 

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